By Assistant Professor Ruben D. Colon (WHINSEC)October 31, 2018
Fort Benning, Ga. (Oct. 31, 2018) -- The military staff ride is a tradition that began in Germany during the late 19th century at specific Napoleonic battle sites to train German general staff officers, who studied the failures and successes of combat that can be applied by future leaders.
That tradition continues for students of the Command General and Staff Officers Course (CGSOC) at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Sixty-seven students conducted a staff ride to the Chickamauga National Military Park Sept. 27 and 28, 2018. They were tasked to research and make group presentations on different aspects of the battle. The learning objective involved themes of operational leadership during the battle at Chickamauga, fought in 1863 during the U.S. Civil War.
The staff ride allowed WHINSEC CGSOC students to refine their capacity for using history as a tool to benefit their professional judgment. It provided a greater appreciation for the challenges involved in the planning and execution of major combat operations. It enhanced the critical thinking required to better understand brilliant military innovations that occurred and the tasks that go into planning and executing major operations. This event also served as a nation-building instrument with partner-nation officers in support of WHINSEC's strategic engagement mission in the hemisphere.
Students used this historical battle to analyze, explain and comprehend contemporary events and relate them to future military operations while also understanding how leaders achieve results in managing organizational change.
The first phase of the staff ride provided preparatory study for the visit to the battlefield, which took place a week prior to the trip. The second phase was the actual visit on the ground at Chickamauga. The battlefield site challenged the students to identify the critical issues and problems facing commanders during this battle. The third phase concluded the staff ride with the integration of the first two phases and evaluation of the attributes demonstrated by leaders during the Chickamauga Campaign.
David Stieghan, the U.S. Army Infantry Branch historian, and James Ogden, the National Park ranger at Chickamauga, provided insight at areas in the park that were strategically important during this complex battle. Their detailed knowledge of the battle augmented the learning objectives students had prepared for their presentations.
At one presentation, Stieghan creatively arranged the students into the rank and file formations used at Chickamauga and had them maneuver across an old battlefield in order to experience some of the confusion and duress that both Union and Confederate troops felt. One CGSOC student explained that Stieghan approach of the rank and file exercise gave the participants an up-close appreciation for the difficulties leaders faced then and face today.
For the last 123 years, the U.S. Congress has maintained the first national military park at Chickamauga for the benefit of the American people, particularly for its military leaders like those WHINSEC students of the CGSOC class of 2018-2019.
"This staff ride carries forward the legacy of those who hallowed the grounds at Chickamauga by using it as the outdoor professional military classroom that those veterans envisioned when they created the national military park a quarter century after the battle," said Ogden. "The national military park's enabling legislation specifically includes the words 'professional military study.'"
As a result of this staff ride, students gained a better understanding of how organizational level leaders make decisions, influence others, and use the "understand," "visualize" and "assess" components of mission command as a framework to successfully monitor and evaluate changes in combat. This experience augments studies found throughout CGSOC.
The CGSOC class of 2018-2019 is made up of officers from the U.S. Army's active-duty component, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army Reserve, National Guard, U.S. Air Force, international police, Navy, Army, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay and Panama.
All the students and participating faculty expressed agreement that the staff ride was a beneficial and educational experience that provided them merit and value.